Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 1


Later this week I will be hosting a debate about religion at my local debate club and I'm very excited. Some of the debate topics that will be covered will be:


• Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

• Is the world better off without religion?

• Is god necessary for morality?


If you've read my blog before you'll know where I stand on these issues. None of these topics are about the metaphysical debate over whether god exists or not or whether one particular religion is true over another. That can be a side issue. Instead, what we'll be debating are the social effects of religion on society along with the role it plays in government and public policy. 

I expect that many people will have varying ideas of what they think "religion" and "secularism" are, so defining these terms is paramount to these debates. Religion for example, is a notoriously hard to define word. There are at least 5 or 6 different commonly used definitions. We throw the word around colloquially to mean a variety of things. We say things like, "In Brazil soccer is a religion," and "Bankers worship money as their religion." For the purposes of these debates, I will define religion as the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny. This definition differentiates religions from political philosophies like liberalism or conservatism.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Debating Means To Me


How could someone who claims to be a man of love and compassion be so argumentative and polemic? The question has arose from time to time. I think it's perfectly rational to be for love and compassion while at the same time rigorously debating deeply held ideas.

To use an analogy, it's similar to how two boxers can pummel each other in the ring, and then are able to sit down together and enjoy a peaceful diner. There is a right time and place for punching someone in the face. When two consenting people step into a boxing ring, it's the right time and place. Punching someone on the street for no reason is not the right time or place.

I see debating in a similar manner. There is a time and a place for debating. Challenging someone random on the street in a hostile manner unprovoked is not the time or place for debate. That's just being rude. On the internet however, it's a little different. Comment threads on apologist and counter apologist websites are the time and place for debate. The same goes for political websites. In fact, any time someone expresses their views publicly could warrant a debate. If I'm forced to hear your views on anything, whether it be political or religious, then you must be forced to hear my criticism. If you can't handle getting challenged, keep your views to yourself.

I welcome debate on this blog and actively seek out prospective interlocutors. I admit that I can sometimes get nasty and can appear very cocky, and if I were a theist I'd definitely think an atheist like myself would be an arrogant antitheist, to say the least. I'm conscious of this and I'm actively working to conduct myself with a certain level of politeness and courtesy, but the impersonal nature of the internet perhaps brings out the worst in me. Intellectual debates should be civil, most of the time. But as Christopher Hitchens often said, "civility is overrated." He was the kind of polemicist that I deeply admire. He could be ruthless in a verbal or written  disagreement, but nice and courteous in regular social functions.

The reasons why I debate the way I do are many. I am a polemicist by nature. On both sides of my family politics and debate were regular happenings. So you could say it's in my nature. I also see debate as both a useful way to learn as well as a good way to test out arguments. On the former, debating forces you to defend certain positions, ideas and facts that you might not have come across outside of a debate format. That's an excellent way to learn new things. On the latter, if you have existing arguments, you might think they're fully sound, but your agreement with them might be causing you to to overlook a flaw that might best be discovered by someone opposed to the arguments. That's an excellent way to put an argument through the gauntlet of critique. Additionally, I also see debate as a way to change minds and I simply enjoy exploring topics I find fascinating like metaphysics, ethics, science and religion - which perhaps with some irony are the same interests that many passionate theists have.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How Popular Is The Many Worlds Interpretation Of Quantum Mechanics?


It is hard to say as statistics vary. But here is one showing that majority (58%) of scientists surveyed hold to it over other interpretations.

Elvridge., Jim (2008-01-02). The Universe – Solved!. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-1-4243-3626-5.OCLC 247614399. "58% believed that the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) was true, including Stephen Hawking and Nobel Laureates Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman"

You're A Filthy Unworthy Sinner And Don't Deserve To Live


Many atheists find it highly offensive when we're told by a religious fundamentalist that we're wretched, filthy, sinners who are unworthy and undeserving of our lives (that we didn't even ask for) and that the only remedy for this situation is to follow their stupid religion. Just think about what we're being told.

To give you an analogy, it would be like if a person forced you to accept a brand new Ferrari. Then while driving it you start to enjoy it, and then the person who gave it to you notices this and begins hounding you with insults, saying things like, "Oh you're enjoying the car I gave you, huh? Well you don't deserve it! You're a filthy, unworthy sinner!" And they never shut up about it. And you try reminding them that you were forced to accept the car, but it doesn't change their attitude one bit.

Any person who would give you a car in this manner would be absolutely crazy, and yet that's exactly what religions like Christianity say is the case when it comes to god and our lives. And yet theists who are thoroughly brain washed into their faith will never see this because they must maintain their dogma at all costs, even if it they recognize the absurdity that parallel examples provide.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Was Your Grandfather A Monkey?



Hmm....

Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Rebuttal Of The Fine Tuning Argument From My Debate With A Theist



A few months ago I was challenged by a theist to a formal written debate on the existence of god over on a theological website called theologyweb. I accepted. We agreed that he would make the opening arguments and make a positive case first and that we'd be debating the existence of a theistic god and not merely a deistic one (because theists have this tendency to retreat into deism when the going gets tough and I hate that). After my response back in June he never got back to me, eventually saying that he was busy with work and other things. So the debate is just sitting there, now closed, with only our initial opening arguments. I took the time in my opener to rebut my opponent's arguments. This is how I like to debate since atheists are often accused of not addressing their opponent's arguments, and in the hundreds of god debates I've watched, there is some truth to this.

My opponent, who on the website goes by the name of "LaplacesDemon" (LD for short), used the fine tuning argument as part of his case for god. And I just noticed that I have not written about the fine tuning argument as much as I should have. So below I have my response to LD rebutting the fine tuning argument. You can see the whole debate here, but you might need to log onto the site for access.

The FTA (fine tuning argument) is in my opinion the only halfway decent argument for god. But even if granted, it doesn’t lead one to conclude the existence that theism is true any more than deism, or that the universe is a computer simulation. In fact, if the universe is fine tuned, those two options are overwhelmingly more probable than theism. And I will argue why. 
I’m not going to dispute the parameters LD mentioned even though a few of them are a bit off because almost all scientists agree that the life permitting range for those values is very narrow. What I will instead argue is that the apparent fine tuning is better supportive of atheism, not theism.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Freedom Of Speech Is A Two-way Street


A young man came up to me on the street after work trying to "enlighten" me with the spirituality of an Indian guru by the name of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He told me that attachment to this material world is a problem and that once one can grasp the knowledge that we are spiritual beings one can seek the true happiness. I listened while he went on for about 30 seconds and then he tried to offer me some books in return for a donation. I settled on a free pamphlet instead, which I read on the subway going home. It's got a lot of spiritual ideas and metaphysics that I don't hold to, but nonetheless was an entertaining read.

This experience made me think about freedom of speech. In a free society, everyone has the right to believe whatever they want and be open about it. You have the right to believe the craziest shit imaginable and be open about it in the public square, so long as it respects secularism. And this is true for the Hindu, Mormon, Muslim, Scientologist, Christian and Wiccan alike. But I also have the right to publicly criticize your beliefs however harshly I want. You can't tell me that you have the right to force me to acknowledge your beliefs but that I don't have the right to criticize them. It doesn't work that way. You have the right to be open about your beliefs and I have the right to criticize them.

Freedom of speech is a two-way street.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Question For Free Will Believers



Imagine if free will did exist and I could choose otherwise when making a decision, but what if given the exact unfolding of events in the universe and in my life that happened, when I'm about to make a moral decision I will always choose X instead of any other choice 100% of the time, even though, I still could have chosen otherwise? If I would always choose a particular decision given a very particular set of events in the past, then could this be the case supposing that free will is true? And in what sense would I really have free will if this was the case?

Cool Idea For Neuroscience Experiment


I love the recent experiments in neuroscience that are shedding light on the nature and origin of consciousness. I just thought of a cool test I would love neuroscientists to do if it hasn't been done already.


Imagine if instead of asking the subjects to flicker their wrist, or push between one of two buttons, why not have them viewing a hostage crisis and being put in a sniper's position where they have their hand on a mock gun with a trigger and they're asked to save a person who is being held with a gin to their head, and they have to either do nothing, or try to shoot the perpetrator in order to save the hostage. Then we can monitor their brain patters and ask them to acknowledge when they had the desire to kill the kidnapper, the same basic way we do in other experiments. This would be more challenging of course because the subject would have to be thinking about whether or not to shoot a kidnapper, and they'd have to try and remember to note what letter appeared on the screen at the time they thought of it. I'm not saying it can be done without problems but it's a nice idea to see if the same kinds of predictable signals occur before conscious knowledge of a choice when there is a moral factor to the decision.

Dear Theists, A Question About Dualism And Neuroscience



Dear Theists,

So you believe we have an immaterial soul in addition to our physical bodies, don't you? What's that? No, you don't believe in dualism? OK, fine. Then I'm not talking to you. I want to talk to the substance dualist. Imagine that you're a neuroscientist right now and you want to be the person who finds out something groundbreaking in the field about consciousness. What epistemological framework are you going to adopt while in your work? - that there are parts of the immaterial and/or supernatural world interacting with and causing neurological or conscious activity, or that there are natural and physical explanations to seek in order to help shed more light on consciousness?

Generational Divide On Attitudes About Sex


55% of Americans now think that same sex marriage should be the law of the land, but when you look at it demographically from an age-point perspective, you can see a clear generational divide. 78% of 18-29 year olds think it should be legal but only 42% of those 65 years or older think so.

But more than just same sex marriage, the older and the younger generation are divided on basic attitudes on sex that have long persisted. The Sex Positive movement, with the help of the internet (or perhaps because of the internet?), is helping to shape progressive, positive and healthy attitudes towards the most taboo subjects on sex. It is bringing the long held myths about sex and its many quirks and kinks out into the light from a perspective that doesn't look at it with shame and embarrassment, but instead examines all forms of sexuality from the clarity of reason and science.

And the older generation is slowly catching up, although they're where the younger generation was a generation or two ago. Many of our old-fashioned attitudes about sex persist because of religion, and it is no surprise that many in the Sex Positive movement reject traditional theism. The older generation is much more religious than millenials are and their attitudes about sex perfectly correlate with their religiosity. Older, mostly religious, Americans tend to hold old-fashioned attitudes and myths about sex and sexuality, while the younger and increasingly secular and non-religious Americans are embracing progressive views on sex at dramatically high rates. Gallup recently ran a poll that showed 72% of those 18-34 think premarital sex is morally acceptable, while a smaller (but still majority) 56% of those 55 and older think it's morally acceptable.

It is clear in which direction views on sex are blowing and we're never going back, lest radical Islam somehow triumph. Aside from that, it appears the Western world is steadfastly sailing towards a complete abolishment of traditional, often religious based views on sex that have persisted for millennia. I'm all for free and open reasonable perspectives on sexuality that are free from myth and all forms of ignorance, especially dogmatic antiquated religious ignorance, and it recently occurred to me that I should be more vocal about it. So expect in the future more posts addressing the divide between progressive and conservative views on sex and sexuality and where I stand on the issues.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Blogging Frequency



We're already more than half way through August and I've only made two posts so far. Yes they're pretty long ones, but still. This time last year I had made already 13 posts in August, and in July last year I made 45 posts - the highest number of posts in any month. I was blogging every day last summer, sometimes several times a day. This summer, not so much. I have a new job that is taking more of my free time away. That's one major reason I'm not blogging as frequently. On top of that I just got back from a one-and-a-half week vacation, and I didn't have any time then to blog much as well. Last summer I didn't go on vacation.

I have been commenting a lot and debating with theists on many blogs and that's been taking up a substantial amount of my writing time, preventing me from writing new material. I've been going out on the weekends to enjoy the outdoors also, and that of course prevents me from writing. But also, I've just been dry on topics lately. I haven't had much inspiration for interesting topics to write about. I plan on writing more counter apologetics in the future and hopefully other interesting topics related to atheism and urban living, but they're mostly just fuzzy ideas right now. My viewership has declined significantly as I've started to write less. It's down to about half of what it was last summer.

So, I'm certainly not going to stop blogging anytime soon. I hope to post more frequently in the future, at least 1-2 posts per week. I don't think I can blog everyday as I did last summer, unless they're really short blogs or links. I try to have original material here, instead of reblogging or linking to other content, but I might ease that up a bit in the name of frequency. Cheers to a good summer!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Few Notes On Spirituality & "Beloved"



I just got back earlier this week from a week-and-a-half long vacation in Oregon. I had attended a music/art/spiritual festival called Beloved and I also got to see my mother, sister and my eight year old nephew. At Beloved, I got to spend several days camping with thousands of free-spirited hippies, many of whom take their spiritual beliefs very seriously. And I have to say it was a very enlightening experience. I spend my time around mostly secular people who rarely, if ever, show any strong outward signs of religiosity - even those who believe in god. So after speaking and spending time with several thousand people who'd probably self identify as "spiritual," I have gained a new perspective.


I wasn't there to preach to anybody. In fact I kept my atheism in the closet the whole time. I was there to learn. I was there to absorb. I was there to warmly educate myself on a slice of humanity that I rarely encounter. "Beloveds" as the attendees are called, are free-spirited hippie types, who mostly feel very passionately about the earth, the environment, humanity and humankind's connection to the spirit world.

On the first night, around the "sacred fire" where at night I would sit to warm up from the cold mountain air, one of the hosts gave a speech about fire. He spoke of the ways in which fire is misused, such as in war, and spoke of the ways it should be properly used. Then we were all instructed to give thanks to all four directions, north, south, east, west. I played along and participated, hoping that there would be a strong emotional response in me, but there wasn't. I seem to have an adverse reaction for group rituals. To me, anything that appears religious or cult like, such as group rituals, makes me uncomfortable. On the second day, we did another group prayer. We were asked to think about those suffering in the world and I did get an emotional response. It wasn't the group prayer that I think did it, it was my empathy for those suffering. I've had emotional moments like that all by myself and so I know the way my body and brain react. Group prayer or singing still isn't my thing. Even Sunday Assembly didn't quite rub me the right way. I was amazed however at some of the people attending who really seemed deeply and sincerely connected to whatever spirits they believed in.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Naturalism: Not Even Wrong?


When you say that something is "not even wrong" it usually means that it's so incoherent that it's not even worth considering right. It's supposed to be so badly constructed that saying it's merely wrong would be a compliment. I was recently linked to a blog post that argues that the worldview of naturalism is so ill-defined that it's not even wrong. And since I am a naturalist, (and a staunch one at that) my curiosity couldn't resist investigating as to whether there was something to this claim.

The blog post, called Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism, written by Randal Rauser, who is a Canadian Christian theologian and apologist, criticizes an argument from Jeffrey Jay Lowder called the The Evidential Argument from the History of Science. Lowder, (who by the way writes an excellent counter-apologetic blog called the Secular Outpost) is accused of defining naturalism in such away that makes it open to the existence of an immaterial soul. This is suppose to highlight the problem naturalists face. Naturalism is so ill-defined, according to some of its critics like Rauser, that there is little point in considering it seriously. After all, it could be argued that if immaterial souls are compatible with a definition of naturalism, then why not immaterial gods?

The definition of naturalism

In my mini-biography, Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey, I defined naturalism as “a worldview with a philosophical aspect which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences” or “the thesis that nothing besides the natural world, or nature, exists.” But this definition doesn't define what "natural" is and isn't, and many think this therefore begs the question. So what is the difference between something natural and something supernatural? Suppose for example that we lived in a world where ghosts existed and everyone had empirical evidence that they existed since the beginning of recorded history. Would ghosts be natural or supernatural in such a world? Trying to define what is natural can be difficult if you don't know what nature is. To compound the problem, consider that if someone who lived 2000 years ago was exposed to modern technology, they would most likely think it was supernatural. Indeed, Arthur C. Clarke's third law states that, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." If such a statement is true, then how could we ever know what is and is not natural given future advancements in technology due to a greater understanding of the laws of physics?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to the Israeli Palestinian Conflict




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